Labor support is any form of emotional, spiritual or physical support offered to you during your labor and birth experience. Labor support can come from many sources, including from your chosen doctor or midwife, a hired doula, your partner, or even your family and friends. Think about it this way—who can you call on from your circle who would want to help you bring your baby earthside?
First, let’s talk about one of the most recommended forms of labor support: a hired doula. A birth doula is a trained support person who provides direct help leading up to and during labor and delivery. A postpartum doula is trained to support you in the fourth trimester, or the 12-week period following the birth of your little one. Birth doulas work with you to make sure you are well-informed and that you have a vision of birth that is most fitting for you and your family. Doulas also provide support and comfort by being a constant presence during your birth experience, suggesting various positions that maximize comfort and helping to keep labor progressing, making sure your partner is cared for while you do some very hard work, providing touch, massages, counterpressure and many other comfort techniques. Many doulas are also trained to help you advocate for yourself in the birthing space. A doula’s role is different than a doctor or midwife as they do not provide medical assistance (such as cervical checks or fetal monitoring), but instead they are primarily focused on promoting your physical comfort and emotional well-being. It has been shown that having a doula can decrease the overall length of labor, decrease anxiety during labor, and decrease the need for medical interventions like cesarean delivery (c-section).
While doulas are the most recommended form of labor support, your partner, family or friends can also provide beneficial support. They know you very well and it is likely that they want to help, but they may not always know how to help. So, it’s important to talk through support measures before you get the birthing room. For example, one day while working as a doula I was leaving a long hospital labor and birth and I noticed a person laboring in the hallway with her partner. He was standing and staring at her with a look of concern on his face that showed he really wanted to be helpful but had no clue how to be helpful as the waves of pain from labor became more intense. I offered to show him a few ways he could help by providing counterpressure and by providing some words of encouragement to his wife. He was grateful, but the mama was even more grateful—she needed to be supported and affirmed in a way that assured her that she would get through this ordeal. Labor support is something all birthing people deserve. It is also very likely that your partner, family or friends want to be involved in this monumental time.
In addition to making the physical arrangements for birth and baby, here are three things that can make your birth experience even better:
- Hire a doula. Doulas are trained specifically to provide physical, emotional and informational labor support. Start by doing some online research about doulas in your area that are available to assist you. You can also ask your doctor or midwife, as well as others around you who have had children, or you can even turn to social media platforms like Facebook groups where many doulas are active to help find the right doula for you.
- Think about who else you want to be in your birthing space and talk to them about how they can help you during labor. It’s completely okay to have some boundaries for your birth space and be intentional about who is in the room. Having conversations about how you handle pain, how you respond physically and emotionally to stress, or how you’d like to be cared for during your birth experience are all great ways to prepare the people who will be present for this time. Go a step further and ask them to spend an hour observing your nonverbal signals. This is great practice for open and attentive communication.
- Create a comfort plan with your doula, partner and whoever will be present in your birth experience that is easy to access. Counterpressure, such as pushing against the lower back during contractions, is very helpful and can be practiced even before labor. Water therapy, such as getting in the shower or tub during labor, can also be helpful. Using a birth ball or peanut ball are also effective strategies during labor. Have a list of these types of comfort measures prepared beforehand so your support person/people can reference this during labor to best help you.
Having a baby is a transformational time, and you deserve to be supported as you help you baby make their grand entrance into the world. Let’s have this baby together!
About Breonna Riddick
Breonna (Bree) Riddick is a birth doula, PhD student, Graduate Teaching & Research Assistant in the Department of Communication at George Mason University. She has served as a doula in her communities since December 2019 and has a strong passion for birth work and empowered birth. Bree is an advocate for person-centered care from a holistic perspective and health equity, particularly for Black women. She feels honored to work alongside families in the sacred space of birth and loves sharing her knowledge with others to improve health outcomes. Learn more about Bree on her website.